THERE is a real buzz in Northern Ireland as The Open returns to the country for the first time since 2015.
Every day is a sell-out with Royal Portrush hosting the 148th staging of the sport's most prestigious event – only the second time The Open has been played outside England and Scotland.
Home hero Darren Clarke will hit the opening tee shot at 6.35am on Thursday and the place will go mental if he or fellow local boys Rory McIlroy or Graeme McDowell go well. Clarke could win Top Senior at 3-1 with Ladbrokes – his only rivals are favourite Miguel Angel Jimenez and outsiders Tom Lehman and Paul Lawrie.
The pressure and demands on them will be immense and they'll do well to cope with the distractions. McIlroy and McDowell both know the course well and could win but for me it's too much of an ask. McIlroy is hot favourite at 9-1 with Betfred and while it would be great to see him lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday my money won't be on him.
As always with The Open the weather's going to play a part – there's some rain and wind forecast over the first three days before what could be a horrible Sunday with heavy rain and gusts up to 35mph on the way.
Second favourite is Majors expert Brooks Koepka who has won four of the last nine and this season won the US PGA and finished second in the Masters and US Open.
The American also has an extra man in the shape of Portrush-born caddie Ricky Elliott. It's said Elliott has played the course 1000 times and if Koepka can execute the shots he's advised then he'll go close. Koepka is a best 11-1 with William Hill and others.
So Koepka's my main pick but as always it's a wide-open Open and remember 11 different players have won the last 11 events including of course Clarke and McIlroy.
I also like third favourite Jon Rahm who has shown his love for links golf by winning the Irish Open twice including this year's event at Lahinch which was his previous tournament as he gave the Scottish Open a miss. The Spaniard has been close to winning his first Major and this could be his week.
American big guns Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods will be backed but Johnson could suffer in the bad weather and from what Tiger says he's struggling a bit with fitness and hasn't played for four weeks so will be ring rusty.
Young guns Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele could contend at 28-1 but my third choice in an old stager in Matt Kuchar. He tops the Fed-Ex rankings with one win and six other top-10s and is enjoying the best year of his career.
Kooch has never won a Major but almost always seems to finish top 10 – he's done so in the last two Opens – and has a solid each-way chance. Warmed up last week with 20th place at the Scottish Open.
Others expected to go well include Adam Scott, Justin Thomas and defending champ Francesco Molinari but for my final pick I'm going with US Open champ Gary Woodland.
He's a huge hitter which isn't always and advantage on links because it's more important to stay on the fairways – but what won him his first Major last month was his improved short game and he'll need to be chipping at his best to have a chance.
Woodland's made seven out of seven cuts at The Open so he can play links golf but has never finished better than 12th. Could beat that this week though.
I'll see if there are any mythical twoballs or maybe in the morning. Threeballs are much tougher to pick a winner but here are some worth a look – O Wilson to bt Korhonen & Knipes (11-10, McBookie), Niemaan to bt Jimenez and Lehman (4-5, McBookie), Poulter to bt Aphibarnrat & Im (13-10, McBookie) and Van Rooyen to bt McLeod & Kitayama (8-11). The fourfold pays 77-10 but consider trebles too.
The Open Antepost Picks
- 2pts Koepka to win (11-1, William Hill)
- 1.5pts ew Rahm (16-1, Betfred – 8 places)
- 1pt ew Kuchar (30-1, Coral – 10 places)
- 1pt ew Woodland (70-1, bet365 – 8 places)
- Bet before 6.35am, Thursday
If you're a keen golf punter don't forget to have a look at our betting masterclass on how to pick a winner when betting on golf!